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Syrian, Hizballah fighters capture strategic town close to Jordan

Russian airstrikes are allowing regime forces to advance but have killed hundreds of civilians [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2016

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Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes, Hizballah fighters and Iranian officers have retaken Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa province, as Islamic State claimed responsibility for a twin bombing in Homs.
Syrian pro-government forces captured a strategic southern rebel town close to the Jordanian border after weeks of fighting, activists said on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops and allied militia including fighters from Lebanon's Hizballah and Iranian officers "seized control of Sheikh Miskeen" overnight with the help of Russian and Syrian government airstrikes.

This is the latest of the Russian-enabled regime's advances on the ground in Syria, following the capture of key towns in Latakia province over the last week.

With the international community largely silent about the civilian casualties caused by Russian and Iranian intervention alongside Assad forces in Syria, and recent reports suggesting the supply of anti-tank missiles to rebels has stopped, some in the Syrian opposition have accused former backers of abandoning the Syrian revolution.

“We think the prevention of TOW supplies is part of the American-Russian understanding,” said Nasser al-Turkmani, a spokesperson for the opposition’s Turkmen-Syrian Council, to The Guardian. “It’s clear the international community has taken a decision to destroy the armed revolution.”

It’s clear the international community has taken a decision to destroy the armed revolution.

The town, in Daraa province, lies on a vital crossroads between Damascus to the north and the government-controlled city of Sweida to the east.

It is 12 kilometers from the rebel stronghold of Nawa, another key target for regime forces.

A security source had told AFP Sheikh Miskeen was a "launching pad" for rebel operations, and one of the opposition's "centres of gravity for the whole of Daraa province."

He said seizing control of the town would sever a rebel supply route to areas under opposition control around Damascus.

Last month, government troops captured the Brigade 82 base outside the town, and they have since been pushing to capture Sheikh Miskeen.

Most of Daraa province is controlled by opposition forces, though the government holds parts of the provincial capital and a few villages in the northwest.

At least 22 people were killed in an IS-claimed double suicide bomb attack at an army checkpoint in Homs



Islamic State claims Homs blast

Meanwhile, the Islamic State terror group has claimed responsibility in an online statement for a twin suicide attack that targeted a regime checkpoint in Syria's Homs on Tuesday.

At least 22 people were killed in the double suicide bomb attack at an army checkpoint in the city, state media had said.

In a breaking news alert, state television said 100 people had also been injured in the blasts in the Zahraa neighbourhood of the city, which has been targeted in bomb attacks multiple times before.

The provincial governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, told AFP at least 19 people had been killed in the attacks.

He said the two bombers appeared to have pulled up at the army checkpoint in a car together, with one exiting the vehicle before the other detonated his explosives while still inside.

In the chaos of the first blast's aftermath, and as a crowd gathered, the second bomber detonated his explosives, Barazi said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the blasts, saying at least 21 people had been killed, among them 13 regime soldiers.

The group's director Rami Abdel-Rahman said the second suicide bomber had been wearing military clothes.

The Zahraa district of Homs has been targeted in multiple bomb attacks in the past, including in late December, when 19 people were killed in several simultaneous blasts.

The residents of Zara are mostly Alawites, the minority sect of Syria's ruling clan, and the Islamic State group has in the past claimed attacks on the district.

Homs city was once dubbed the "capital" of Syria's uprising, which began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

But after years of devastating fighting and government sieges, most of the city is now back in regime hands, with the exception of the Waer district, which is being gradually turned over to the government under a deal with opposition fighters.

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